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Hauling people isn't a fun job. That's why people in yellow cars get paid to do it. When the passengers are your family, everything changes. Comfort and safety, not revenue, are prime considerations.
A vehicle that is versatile conjures up images of a lumbering people-mover van which may live uneasily with an ability to provide some degree of driving enjoyment. Enter the SUV and with it, one of Australia's best selling wagons, the Toyota Kluger. It is our third best seller in the large SUV segment, pipped marginally in year-to-date sales by the Ford Territory which sits under the popularity of the Toyota Prado.
The amazing thing is that the Kluger does this without offering a diesel model. It more than triples sales of the diesel-only Hyundai Santa Fe. Even late next year, when the new US-built Kluger replaces the current model, there will be no diesel, no hybrid and no budget four-cylinder model. That's the power of Toyota.
At $55,490, the Kluger KX-S all-wheel drive (AWD) isn't cheap. But the five-year-old SUV has a decent level of kit including heated and electric-adjust front seats, reverse camera, sat-nav, leather, hill holder and hill descent, voice recognition, trip computer, six-speaker audio with iPod/USB and Bluetooth, 19-inch alloys and climate-control front and rear airconditioning.
Do you need an AWD? Save $15,500 with the (much) less-equipped KX-R front-drive five-seater or, better, get the Altitude model for $44,990 with seven seats, sunroof and sat-nav, but no leather. Drivetrains - and hence performance and economy - are identical across the Kluger range. Do you need a Kluger? A diesel Territory starts at $43,250.
In poor light, the Kluger looks as formidable as a Land Cruiser 200-Series and though there is a family resemblance, they are chalk and cheese. The Kluger is an SUV in the perfect sense of the word. It's tall, long and wide and designed for heaps of cabin space. It is very versatile. The centre seat splits, slides, flips and folds flat. It's listed as a seven-seater but the hapless passenger in the centre-row's middle seat is sitting on a removable armrest and cushion - not very comfortable.
This centre section of the seat is removable and stows in a dedicated cubby hole under the front-seat armrest. The third row is flush under the boot floor and the full-size spare wheel is in a steel shell beneath the rear of the wagon. Levers in the boot remotely fold down the centre-row seats but retrieving them is awkward and the third row relies on fabric straps to assemble. The lift-up glass panel within the rear hatch is a boon. Hard plastics abound within and the all-black decor and tinny doors doesn't meet the Kluger's price tag expectations.
It's a clever trick to spread common devices across a multitude of platforms. Toyota does it well with the 3.5-litre petrol V6, using it in various tune stages in the Australian market to power the Kluger, Aurion, RAV4, Tarago, six Lexus models and even the Lotus Evora. This in-line, transverse and mid-mount flexibility extends to different transmissions. In the Kluger, it is rated at 201kW/337Nm and linked to a five-speed auto driving the all four wheels with a 50:50 torque split.
Fuel economy is a claimed 11L/100km on standard unleade d fuel. There's also electric-assist steering, multi-link rear suspension, four-wheel disc brakes and nothing much else out of the ordinary - which is exactly what you want in a family wagon.
You wouldn't want anything less for your family, or yourself. This is a five-star crash-rated vehicle with all the necessary electronic aids, seven airbags, a full-size spare wheel and off-road assistants such as hill descent and a hill holder. There's also a rear camera but omissions include park sensors and heated side mirrors.
With so many things on its side, I'm let down by the drive. It's capable and quiet and holds the road well, but the engine's delivery is laid back until you put the boot in. Yes, it performs well when encouraged but thrives on revs and that wrecks any potential for economy. Toyota claims 11 L/100km but suburban and highway cruising resulted in my 12.2 L/100km average. Generally, if you toottle around the suburbs or cruise country roads, it's a good machine.
Don't think about caning it because it just gets noisy and thirsty. Ride comfort and tyre noise is generally good though improve considerably at cruising speeds, making it a capable country machine. It needs a front park sensor and that foot-operated parkbrake enjoys clipping my left foot.
As a drive it's capable but not a lot of fun. But the way its seats reconfigure and the space - even I can fit in the third seat row - make it a very appealing package.
Toyota Kluger KX-S
Price: from $55,490
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Service interval: 6 months/10,000km
Safety: 7 airbags, ABS, EBD, EBA, TC
Crash rating: 5-star
Engine: 3.5-litre V6 petrol, 201kW/337Nm
Transmission: 5-speed auto; on demand AWD
Thirst: 11.0L/100km; 91RON; 259g/km CO2
Dimensions: 4.8m (L), 1.9m (W), 1.8m (H)
|Altitude (4x4) 7 Seat||3.5L, ULP, 5 SP AUTO||$17,549 – 25,990||2012 Toyota Kluger 2012 Altitude (4x4) 7 Seat Pricing and Specs|
|Altitude (FWD) 7 Seat||3.5L, ULP, 5 SP AUTO||$16,990 – 24,989||2012 Toyota Kluger 2012 Altitude (FWD) 7 Seat Pricing and Specs|
|Grande (4x4)||3.5L, ULP, 5 SP AUTO||$18,955 – 28,999||2012 Toyota Kluger 2012 Grande (4x4) Pricing and Specs|
|Grande (FWD)||3.5L, ULP, 5 SP AUTO||$14,721 – 27,990||2012 Toyota Kluger 2012 Grande (FWD) Pricing and Specs|